Quit the complaining, Caps it's playoffs

April 21, 1994|By Phil Jackman

Last year, an opponent almost completed the task of putting the face of Kevin Stevens completely through the glass behind the goal. They had to put the Pittsburgh winger's smile back together in the off-season.

Does anyone recall seeing one of the 4 million replays of Dale Hunter's Pearl Harbor attack on Pierre Turgeon last spring?

A couple of years ago, Mario Lemieux made the mistake of putting his wrist in front of a fearsome slash by a New York Ranger and the next sound heard was "snap!"

Witnesses won't soon forget Pat Verbeek leaping into the legs of Rod Langway skates first in what looked like an attempt at impromptu amputation and, just the other night, Sylvain Cote caught a fist and the butt end of the stick under the eye and an orbital bone shattered.

Get started on a litany of hockey players' inhumanity to hockey players and you'll have to send out for coffee and sandwiches. Especially when it's playoff time and it is generally understood that any agreements coming out of the Geneva Convention are suspended.

Thing is, just about everybody in the game seems to relish the rough and tumble, do unto others before they do unto you action. That is until the wrong ox is being gored.

Here we're only five days into the first-round series between the Capitals and Penguins heading into Game 3 at the USAir Arena this evening (7:40) and, already, the Caps have set a team record for complaints. It's "The Days of Whine and (Broken) Noses."

General manager David Poile got the ball rolling beforehand by beefing that Pittsburgh was granted an advantage by the fact its regular season ended a couple of days early.

"Ridiculous and unfair" is the way he described the situation of injured Pens having added time to heal. He said something about the team "being handled more harshly on league matters" than other clubs are.

Pitt defenseman Larry Murphy pointed out that "sitting around for a week" hurt the Penguins as far as Game 1 was concerned, the team coming out "flat" and losing on home ice, 5-3. So much for that advantage.

Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld grabbed the crying towel after the series was squared with Pittsburgh's 2-1 victory Tuesday night, using the old argument about star players being accorded privileges above and beyond.

This was in regard to Lemieux being allowed to stand in the crease as the Penguins were scoring the winning goal, a no-no, but something that happens constantly in games without being called. "All we want is a level playing field," said the coach, a line used earlier by the general manager.

These complaints and suggestions that a review of the Cote "accident" and the Lemieux/crease incident undoubtedly has caused folks in the league offices to conclude that the Caps are a bunch of moaners. In typical NHL fashion, the powers that be have commanded the Capitals to direct complaints to the league, not the press, as though fans, the media and everybody else watching can't discern things for themselves.

Hunter, who got a leg slashed out from under him Tuesday night thus missing the third period, was asked about the incident. "That's playoff hockey and playoff officiating," he said without rancor. "Thursday's another big game."

In other words, this is for the Cup, gang, so ask no quarter and, certainly, give none. Even with his leg strain, Hunter and Craig Berube were on the ice as soon as the final horn sounded the other night, looking to mix it up if any Penguins were similarly inclined. Berube had even played in the game.

In his years in Washington, Dino Ciccarelli, a playoff gem, used to have a cut, a welt or a scrape on his face, not for every goal scored but for every shift skated. Like Hunter, not once was he ever heard to complain about the treatment.

If the league commissioner decreed that the human sacrifice of a player accompany each playoff game, chances are most of the participants wouldn't question the ultimatum.

Of course, it doesn't help when the media in the contesting cities is constantly fueling the fire. There was an incident during Game 2 that saw Randy Burridge draped all over Lemieux for about 15 seconds before dragging him to the ice, "something that's part of the game now, being tackled from behind and dragged down," says Mario.

Burridge was first to get righted and as he skated away, Lemieux cut his legs away to screams of "foul, foul" by the guy doing the announcing. Between periods, Poile took the bait and added to his fast-growing complaint list by suggesting that perhaps because it was Mario, nothing was called.

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